Sweet and Sour

Without sourness, there could be no sweetness, and vice versa. Experiencing one creates the perspective necessary to appreciate the other, to truly recognize the full spectrum of flavors between the extremes. Finding balance between such starkly contrasted tastes is rare, but highly sought after judging by the popularity of the sweet and sour sauces found splashed across every generic Chinese takeout menu in America. Something about that acidic twang and its sugary foil brings us back for bite after bite, no matter the vehicle, be it protein or vegetable. Asian cultures don’t have a monopoly on this culinary game, though, despite their domination in the field.

Italian agrodolce has a sharp yet sugared character all its own, typically created by a combination of a vinegar reduction and dried fruits. It’s great as a glaze for an entree, like pan-seared tofu or tempeh, or tossed with fresh pasta for a side, but today I’m using it to kick off a party with a wallop of bold flavor.

Everyone’s favorite vegetable du jour, cauliflower, comes in a full spectrum of colors far more brilliant than the average white floret would suggest. Roasted with just a touch of olive oil, salt, and pepper, the simplicity of that preparation is hard to beat, but you can easily step up your starter game with this stellar sauce. In this unconventional approach, briny capers join the fun to turn the dial to 11, but finely chopped green olives could make a fabulous, more mild understudy.

My favorite serving suggestion involves bread. Wide open planes of thick toasted bread or more dainty slices of baguette, first smeared with cashew ricotta for a rich, creamy base which elegantly cuts through these sharp contrasts.

If you’re not crazy about pairing fruit with savory vegetables, I hear you. I too would have given this combination the side eye not long ago. Suspend disbelief long enough take a chance; unlike the cloying and syrupy renditions of sweet and sour that turned me away in the past, this one, like life itself, is all about finding beauty in balance.


Roasted Rainbow Cauliflower Agrodolce

2 Pounds Purple, White, Green, and/or Orange Cauliflower Florets (About 3 – 4 Small Heads Total)
6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
3/4 Cup Jumbo Raisin Medley or Golden Raisins
1/4 Cup Sherry Vinegar
1/4 Cup Capers, Drained
1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper together until thoroughly combined and evenly seasoned. Arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet, or divide between two baking sheets if needed. Place in the center of the oven and roast until golden brown and fork tender; about 20 – 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, mix the vinegar, capers, and raisins and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until all the liquid has absorbed into the fruit.

Toss the roasted cauliflower with the vinegared raisins, along with the minced parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe

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Dip into Summer

The original significance of Memorial Day has become lost to most modern revelers, happy enough to celebrate a day off of work for any reason. According to the tireless research of WalletHub, 60% of Americans are eating at barbecues, beer sales will be higher than any day except the Fourth of July, 41.5 million people are traveling, and about 41 percent of us are shopping Memorial Day sales.

Over the years, it’s become a joyful day demarcating the unofficial beginning of summer, as we cast off heavy knit sweaters and relegate plush quilts to the back of our closets at long last. Even for those still dutifully clocking in today, there’s a sense of optimism in the air, looking ahead to the long hours of sunshine. Most importantly, though, is the promise of fresh produce both sweet and savory; an abundance of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and all the culinary possibilities they bring. Hard-hitting journalism by the New York Times uncovers and ranks the tastes of summer, and while I might dispute many of those findings, it’s a good indication of what might be on grocery lists and dinner tables in the coming months. To that questionable index, I’d like to suggest another category to consider: The essential dips of summer.

Here’s what you’ll find on my table as the days heat up:

Hummus-Tzaziki, otherwise known as Hummiki, blends the best of both worlds with a refreshing crunch of cucumber woven in. Zesty lemon and dill brighten the flavor profile further, imparting a bold and sunny flavor throughout.

Composed of rich, creamy chunks of avocado, contrasted by crunchy cubes of jicama, this Chimchurri Avocado Salsa is a clear departure from the more typical tomato-based dip. Peppery, lemony, herbaceous, and vinegary all at once, it’s perfectly suitable to serve with with chips, crowning soups and salads, or an hors d’oeuvre in and of itself.

Take advantage of the tender baby spinach shooting up from gardens across the nation and use it in this creamy Saag Paneer Dip! Impressively cheesy, the cashew base carries delicately nuanced spices that put bland old sour cream spinach dips of yore to shame.

Back in the dark ages when eggplant was my foe, I invented this zucchini-based work around to babaganoush, dubbed Zukanoush. Even though my intolerance seems to have died down and I can enjoy the purple nightshade again, I’m still hooked on this version, packed full of everyone’s favorite green squash. You’ll never feel overwhelmed by a glut of zucchini with this formula on hand.

Caramelized Onion Dip is really a staple food all year long, but it’s such a crowd-pleaser, it should have an automatic, honorary invite to every party. If you can get past the terrible photos from over a decade (!) ago, you’re in for a real umami treat.

Given all the delicious options, how are you celebrating the start of summer? Do you have the day off, or are you quietly plotting your next adventure for the coming months?

Munch Madness

Considering the fervor surrounding Superbowl festivities and all associated opportunities for eating and drinking, it’s surprising that little of that enthusiasm seems to carry over for March Madness. Speaking as an uninformed observer, it strikes me as an even more promising excuse to indulge, being spread out over a number of weeks with numerous chances to try new celebratory snacks. It’s hard to resist the classics, especially when you have limited time to pull out all the stops, but when you can dabble with different recipes for each match, even fair-weather sports fans can get into the spirit. That’s where I come in.

Top picks for any appetizer bracket will always include dips. Guacamole is the reigning champ these days, but hummus, queso, artichoke and spinach, and good old salsa are definitely contenders. That said, my bet is going to the underdog this round, the old-school favorite that doesn’t get its fair due these days. Sour cream and onion has proven its worth in all variety of savory bites, though its influence usually ends at the dusty bag of potato chip crumbs.

More substantial than those thin crisps and less messy than any dipping situation, sour cream and onion arancini elevate the proven allium medley into a self-contained appetizer worthy of a special occasion. Whether or not that happens to include hollering at the TV while baskets are made or missed is entire up to you.

Jasmine rice, tender and aromatic, is my unconventional selection in this particular baked rice ball. Mahatma Rice sources the very best grains from Thailand; a commitment to quality that’s evident in every bite. Naturally, it pairs brilliantly with Asian flavors, like the subtle nuances of lemongrass, cilantro, chilies, citrus, basil, and coconut milk, but is versatile enough to support any seasonings. Find Mahatma Jasmine Rice using their store locator, and your efforts will be paid off in spades of flavor.

Crisp on the outside, creamy and rich on the inside, you could be fooled into thinking that this was every bit as decadent as the original inspiration. Believe it or not, these arancini are actually baked, not fried, and pack a powerful punch of protein thanks to the addition of homemade tofu sour cream. Dehydrated onion flakes take the place of a breadcrumb coating, enhancing the allium aroma and lending a deeply toasted taste at the same time. You’ll even score some bonus points for having a naturally gluten-free option, too!

Whether or not you’re into basketball, you can’t lose with such delicious savory morsels on your team.

This post is sponsored by Mahatma Rice, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.

Sour Cream and Onion Arancini

1 1/4 Cups Mahatma Jasmine Rice
2 1/2 Cups Reduced Sodium Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/3 Cup Pureed Silken Tofu*
1/4 Cup Mochiko (Glutinous Rice Flour)
3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Mochiko (Glutinous Rice Flour)
1/2 Cup Dehydrated Onion Flakes

*Depending on preference and availability, you could substitute Greek-style vegan yogurt instead.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper.

Combine the rice and vegetable stock in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Cover and bring to a rapid boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook for 15 – 18 minutes, until all the liquid has absorbed and the rice is tender. Keep covered to finish steaming and set aside.

Meanwhile, place a medium skillet over moderate heat on the stove and begin the warm the olive oil. Once shimmering, add the onion and garlic, stirring periodically. Season with salt and continue to saute for another 10 – 15 minutes, until aromatic and lightly golden brown. Transfer to the pot of rice.

Mix in the nutritional yeast, onion powder, black pepper, lemon juice, mustard, silken tofu, and scallions next, stirring thoroughly to make sure that the seasonings are evenly distributed throughout. Add in the mochiko last.

When the rice is cool enough to handle, use an ice cream scoop and lightly moistened hands to roll out approximately 1/4 cup of the mixture for each arancini. Toss gently in the onion flakes, pressing lightly to adhere and completely coat the outsides. Place the finished arancini on the sheet pan and lightly spray all over with oil.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.

Makes 16 – 18 Arancini

Printable Recipe

Perfect Party Pearings

Take a deep breath: You’ve survived another grueling round of holiday merriment. Feasts have been devoured and mountains of torn wrapping paper lay in ruin. It may very well look like a bomb went off in the living room, complete with tinsel shrapnel and carpet stains that will haunt you for the rest of your days, but the deed has been done, the festivities successfully completed.

But before you lock the doors tight, entering into full hibernation mode, don’t forget that one last hurrah remains. In less than one week’s time, the calendar mandates yet another grand celebration, demanding every last iota of enthusiasm remaining following the Christmas craze. With dishes still stacked precariously in the sink, it’s a lot to consider. For the New Year, however, it’s time to give yourself a gift if you’re bold enough to take the reins as host or hostess once again, and just take it easy.

Skip the elaborate dinner menu in favor of simple, snackable small plates. Your guests are undoubtedly worn out from holiday excesses as well, happily munching at a slower pace while enjoying each others’ company. Crostini (or bruschetta, if you prefer) are the ideal vehicle for any sort of sweet or savory toppings, so for my festive suggestion, I would like to raise a literal and figurative toast to both ends of the taste spectrum.

A golden platform of crusty bread supports a creamy, rich schmear of cream cheese, contrasted by the tender, sweet, and slightly tart bite of pomegranate-infused pears. Sturdy enough to withstand advanced prep and a full evening at ambient temperature, these understated yet spectacular little morsels are your ideal party guests. They’re guaranteed to never overstay their welcome, either.

Pomegranate and Pear Crostini

Pomegranate Poached Pears:

3 Cups 100% Pomegranate Juice
1 Cup 100% Apple Juice
1/3 Cup Maple Syrup
1 Whole Vanilla bean, Split and Scraped
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
4 Firm Bartlett, Anjou or Bosc Pears, Peeled, Halved, and Cored

For Assembly:

1 Baguette, Sliced Thinly and Toasted
1 Cup Vegan Cream Cheese, Store-Bought or Homemade
1 Pomegranate, Arils Removed

Combine the pomegranate juice, apple juice, maple syrup, vanilla bean seeds, and black pepper in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Serve the spent vanilla bean pods for making vanilla sugar, or another recipe.

Bring the liquid bring to a gentle simmer and add the pears. Cover and cook for 20 – 30 minutes, until the pears are just fork-tender. Remove the fruit from the saucepan and chill thoroughly before slicing. Don’t toss the excess poaching liquid- It’s fantastic mixed with a bit of chilled champagne for your New Year’s toast.

To assemble, spread the slices of toasted baguette generously with cream cheese and top each one with a slice of poached pear. Finish with a sprinkle of pomegranate arils and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 16 – 24 Servings

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Dip, Dip, Hooray

In the battle for snack supremacy, the competition is fierce, but a few front runners have emerged from the pack. Potential winners are obvious from any vantage point in the bleachers, if you just take a moment to look at the odds. Think back and try to remember the last time you attended a decent party that didn’t have a bottomless bowlful of hummus on display, for starters. And what would Taco Tuesday be without nacho cheese in ample supply- Maybe just Tortilla Tuesday? All bets are off when it comes to picking a winner between the two, but I think I have a solution that neither side would see as a compromise.

Nacho hummus, bearing all the cheesy, spicy decadence of a good queso dip with the more substantial heft of a chickpea spread. The two rivals complement and contrast one another with surprising ease, a natural union that has been long overdue.

Whether you smear it in a pita, thin it out to drizzle on corn chips, or just set it out with cut vegetable crudites and let the crowd go wild, it’s a fool-proof formula deserving of a gold medal.

Nacho Hummus

1 14-Ounce Can (or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Chickpeas, Drained and Rinsed
1/2 Red Pepper, Seeded and Roasted, Chopped
1/3 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
1 Chipotle Pepper Packed in Adobo Sauce
1 Clove Garlic, Chopped
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoons Tahini
1 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 – 3/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 – 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
Thinly Sliced Scallions, to Garnish (Optional)

Like any other hummus variant, this dip couldn’t be easier or quicker to prepare. Toss the chickpeas, roasted red pepper, tomato paste, chipotle, and garlic, and lemon juice into your food processor. Pulse to being breaking down the ingredients and pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add in the tahini, mustard, and all the seasonings and spices, starting with just 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.

Puree, and while the motor is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, until the mixture is silky-smooth and it reaches your desired consistency. If you’d like it to be more of a sauce than a spread, follow that with water or vegetable stock, as needed. Adjust the spice level to taste.

Top with sliced scallions and dip the day away!

Makes 6 – 10 Servings as an Appetizer

Printable Recipe

Fit for a Fiesta

Funny how holidays tend to sneak up on a person, even when the date is baked into the name itself. Cinco de Mayo is largely an excuse for day drinking here in the states, but it would truly be a shame to let it pass without indulging in a bit of edible hedonism as well. Someone who was more prepared, or at least aware of the rapidly advancing calendar, might have shared something suitable with enough time to plan, prepare, and lock down a party game plan before the actual date.

I am not that person.

However, I don’t need to be, and neither do you! Not only are these spicy appetizers compulsively munchable, they’re effortless to throw together at the drop of a sombrero. Modeled after meatballs but inspired by tacos, each bite-sized morsel turns the classically meaty, spicy, typically messy dish into dainty finger food. No more crumbly taco shells dumping their contents all over your white pants; crushing tortillas into a crunchy coating allows them to remain perfectly crisp, yet intact and firmly adhered from plate to palate.

Clear your schedule, call up all your friends, and start crushing ice for a boatload of frozen margaritas; there’s a party brewing as soon as you preheat the oven.

Taco Bites

1 12-Ounce Package Vegan Beef Crumbles or Crumbled Tempeh
1/2 Cup Black Beans, Roughly Mashed or Refried Pinto Beans
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 Cup Yellow Cornmeal
1 1/2 Teaspoons Chili Powder
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/3 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Finely Crushed Tortilla Chips

Salsa, to Serve

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Place your meatless crumbles of choice in the food processor, along with the beans, tomato paste, garlic, cornmeal, chili powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Pulse briefly to combine, but be careful not to over-blend. You want to break down the crumbles a bit but still leave a lot of texture here. Introduce the aquafaba, cilantro, and salt next, pulsing once more to incorporate. Blend just until you achieve a cohesive, meaty dough.

Scoop out balls the size of walnuts and roll them in the crushed tortilla chips, completely coating the exteriors. Place each ball on your prepared baking sheet and repeat the process until you’ve used up all of the central mixture.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the balls are firm and evenly browned. Serve hot, alongside your favorite salsa and an icy cold beverage.

Makes About 20 Bites

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